So today marks the start of round 2 of the NWJHL playoffs and I decided to do something I haven’t done in a while. (insert your own showering joke here) It has been weeks since I had something to say about the Huskies that Jon hadn’t already said somewhere else. But today I am feeling a little ornery. I’m in a bit of a bad mood and I want to set the record straight.
Now I know it isn’t really up to me to do this and I try very hard not to be a homer. I don’t want to be biased towards the Huskies and I don’t think that I am and neither is Jon. We definitely focus more on the Huskies, since that’s the team we cover, but we try very hard to do it in a fair and balanced kind of way. And not the Fox News kind of fair and balanced. But what happened in Round 1 is still annoying me and I want to set the record straight. I waited until the series was over so as not to inspire the Blades in any way but here is what went on in game 3.
Nolan Bowker, who up until game 3 had been outstanding in the Blades net, lost his cool and sprayed Luke McInerney with water from his water bottle. The linesman saw it happen and Bowker rightly was given a gross. You spray a guy with water you get a gross. It’s one of those rules that the Ref has to call even if he doesn’t want to. And trust me he didn’t want to call it. But Bowker gets the game and a 2 game suspension and the Blades have 15 minutes to find someone else to play goal since they didn’t bother to bring a backup. They try to pack up their gear and go home but the Huskies won’t let them. Hockey Alberta’s rules are pretty clear on the whole situation and the Huskies make sure those rules are enforced. You see they want to finish the game and the rules state that the Blades have to stick around, find someone else to play between the pipes or the rest of the series would be a forfeit. And there is a reason that rule exists. You can’t just tuck tail and run if you didn’t have the foresight to bring a backup goalie. There are fans in the stands who would have wanted their money back if the game had ended halfway through the second and you can’t force a team to give refunds. Calls are exchanged back and forth between both teams and the head of the NWJHL and after about an hour the Blades dress a forward in goalie gear and the game resumes much to the Huskies relief.
I am not sure why the Blades were so upset with the Huskies. You would think that playing by the rules and not giving up when things aren’t going your way would be lessons you would want to teach your players. But maybe I am wrong. Maybe it makes more sense to give up when the going gets tough and take your ball and go home when things don’t go your way. Anyway, the Blades coaching staff seemed to think that Coach Kalb had orchestrated the whole thing and if some Blades fans and players are to be believed Bowker was only kicked out because of dodgy refereeing in FSJ. All of that is, of course, sour grapes and completely ludicrous. The rules on both the ejection and what happens when a team doesn’t have a backup are clear and must be enforced. But the part that annoyed me the most happened later in game 3 when Kole Norris got jumped.
Nick Darke was clearly out to get Norris and despite several attempts by Brighton Campbell to fight Darke, and therefore protect Norris, the Blades forward refused to drop the mitts until late in the third period when Kole Norris wasn’t looking. Darke and Norris wrestled around for a while before the linesmen separated them. Game 4 rolls around and pretty much the same thing happened. As far as I could tell Darke only played two shifts in the whole of game 4 and if he played more than that he was certainly not having much of an impact on the game. The two shifts where Darke was on the ice, and noticeable, Kole Norris was also on the ice. And the second of those shifts Darke jumped Norris from behind once again. Only this time Darke executed one of the worst jumpings in hockey history. It was a massive fail. Norris spun around, dropped his gloves (for the first time ever?) and maybe didn’t win the fight but held his own. You have to say it is a pretty cowardly move to jump the smallest guy in the league from behind. In my opinion a team with some very good players and a fairly good coaching staff showed a lack of class and dealt with some hardship, of their own doing, in the wrong way. Oh, and Nick Darke should be ashamed of himself.
Well now that I have gotten all of that off of my chest let’s take a look at who was good in round 1 and what to expect in round 2.
You have to give a lot of credit to Ty Gullickson for rebounding from a tough game 1 and posting very good numbers the rest of the way. The coaching staff rode his hot hand, from game 3 on, to close out the series and Garrett Muir will have to step up when he gets his next start. Also give a lot of credit to Cody Kalb, who wore the ‘C’ for most of the series in the absence of the suspended Payden Wongstedt (#27 will miss the start of round 2 as well), for bringing a tonne of effort and leadership to the rink throughout the series. Luke McInerney was at his best from game 3 on and the Huskies may have found a new line when they put Luke with Hildy and Sidhu. Those guys were flying and seem to like playing together. The Pups should be full of confidence after filling the net against the Blades and will have also learned that you have to show up and play hard to win games in the playoffs.
Next up for the Huskies will be the Grande Prairie Wheelers. I think their actual team name includes a car dealership but I am not entirely sure. The Wheelers didn’t put up much of a fight in the regular season against the Huskies. At least, not in Fort St John. The Huskies won the first matchup of the season way back in October 7-4 in GP. They took the second game 7-1 on home ice in November. The Pups then lost game 3 of the regular season matchup 5-2 on the road, also in November. Friday December 4th saw the Huskies dispose of the Wheelers 9-3 at the NPA and the final match-up of the season in late January was another easy win for FSJ 9-2 the final, again at the NPA. That adds up toregular season domination for the Huskies with 4 wins out of 5. They outscored the Wheelers by 19 in those 5 meetings. And even more impressive, and pertinent since the Pups have home ice advantage in the series, 3 wins out of 3 on home ice and a combined score of 25-6 in those 3 games. Those numbers tell a pretty interesting story.
But I don’t think it tells the story of what will happen in round 2 starting tonight at the NPA. The Wheelers are a very talented team that some observers around the league think are better than the Huskies. They have extremely gifted forwards in guys like Littman and Weegar and stud D men like Sutherland and Johnson. The problem GP has is getting guys in the lineup consistently and getting consistent goaltending. Cody Atkinson is one heck of a hockey player but only played 19 regular season games. He is just one example of guys playing for GP that could make a huge difference between a win and a loss but just aren’t in the lineup often enough. It happens to most teams in this league, having to work cuts into playing time just ask Dan Pappin, but the Wheelers don’t have the depth that the Huskies have to cope with guys missing from the lineup. If GP has a full bench they will give the Huskies a run for their money.
Between the pipes, from what I have seen, GP can get very good goaltending or very bad goaltending. In the frist round of the playoffs against Sexsmith it seems like they got the good kind of tending as Kris Dika won all 3 games of their first round sweep while posting very solid numbers. And this goaltending needs to continue if GP has a shot against the Pups and I don’t know why but I think it will.
A meeting with the Whitecourt Wolverines is on the line (barring a miracle) as the Pups battle the Wheelers in what should be a very good, closely fought series. Game 1 is tonight at the NPA and you won’t want to miss it.